1. The food tin that held all the tools to escape from a prisoner of war camp
    We have all heard about the Great Escape of World War Two, but the First World War also saw a mass break-out of British inmates from a German prisoner of war camp, and this ordinary looking tin of ox tongue is an intimate link with that episode.
    The tin was sent to a captured fighter-pilot, Captain Jack Shaw, who was a prisoner at Holzminden PoW camp near Hanover. Holzminden was an allegedly escape-proof camp designed to hold ‘troublemakers’ who, like Shaw, had made previous attempts to escape.
    Shaw, who had been shot down during the Battle of Messines in June 1917, had been receiving food parcels from his mother, and, using this lifeline, had managed to communicate in code with British Intelligence at the War Office back in Blighty.
    He was sent this specially adapted tin which, instead of meat, contained wire-cutters and weights to make it feel full (both pictured), a compass and maps showing the area between Holzminden and neutral Holland – the country successful escapers would head for.
    Shaw never got a chance to use the tin’s contents because the tunnel he was waiting to go through collapsed in July 1918 just when he was about to enter. But 29 men had wormed their way to freedom through the tunnel – and ten of them evaded re-capture to make a ‘home run’ via the Netherlands.
    Shaw survived the conflict and went on to serve in the Second World War, and his tin is now at the Imperial War Museum, providing an insight into the ingenuity of determined escapers.

     
  2. Many memories of the First World War will be evoked during 2014, so let’s start with this one, Seargent Stubby, the “crowning glory of the U.S Army”.

    According to the History Learning Site, Stubby’s beginnings were humble. A stray Bull terrier cross, he found himself wandering through an army training session at Yale Field in Connecticut. After befriending the soldiers, one in particular named Corporal Robert Conroy took a shine to the dog, and named him Stubby. Legend has it that Corporal Conroy was so smitten with Stubby that when it came time to ship out to the Western Front, he smuggled the dog onto the vessel bound for France. Even when he was discovered, he was allowed to remain with Conroy and so found himself on the Western Front in the thick of combat.

    Stubby remained with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division, known as the Yankee division. He was present at many battles, including at Chateau-Thierry, the Marne and St. Mihiel. Over time, he survived a number of injuries, including those from shrapnel and gas attacks. It is said he became so well-known and admired that he was treated in Red Cross hospitals, as human soldiers were.

    Having survived gas attacks, he became very sensitive to the smell of gas, and with his sensitive dog nose, was able to detect gas much earlier than his human comrades and alert them in time. His acute doggy hearing, allowed him the advantage of hearing even the quietest sounds from advancing enemy and so Stubby proved excellent at silently alerting his comrades when he could hear the enemy was near. His major triumph was hearing a German spy who had tried to sneak into Conroy’s camp during the dead of night. The loyal and diligent Stubby managed to grab the intruder’s leg and immobilize him until Conroy and other troops came to investigate and imprison the German. He also acquitted himself as a ‘mercy’ dog, scanning the battle fields for injured soldiers and comforting them whilst they lay dying or alerting paramedics to the wounded.

    Stubby was named a hero, to the point where, after the liberation of Chateau Thierry, the women of the town made him a special chamois blanket, to display his many medals and service chevrons. Stubby returned home a hero and became somewhat a celebrity in the USA. He received more medals than any other soldier dog and even outranked his owner. Stubby was even awarded lifetime membership of the American Legion and participated in every march and convention until his death in 1926, all the while, remaining in the care of Corporal Robert Conroy. Conroy himself enrolled at Georgetown University to study law. Such was the country’s pride in Stubby that on his death in 1926, the New York Times submitted an obituary which read,

    ‘On Feb. 5, 1918, he entered the front lines of the Chemin des Dames sector, north of Soissons, where he was under fire night and day for more than a month. The noise and strain that shattered the nerves of many of his comrades did not impair Stubby’s spirits. Not because he was unconscious of danger. His angry howl while a battle raged and his mad canter from one part of the lines to another indicated realization. But he seemed to know that the greatest service he could render was comfort and cheerfulness.’

     
  3. Image of climber 'John Mackenzie' from Ashley Abraham's Rock-Climbing in Skye book, 1908, which is up for auction

    These extraordinary images by the world’s first rock-climbing photographers show the pioneers of the sport scaling some of Britain’s highest peaks - with their bare hands.
    The death-defying pictures were taken in the early 1900s - long before the days of Gore-Tex, safety ropes, protective clothing, spikes, clips and high-strength Kevlar cables.
    Pictured on some of the UK’s tallest summits the images show early rock climbers relying on heavy ropes and sheer guts to take on the massive peaks.

     
  4. Salvador Dalí died 35 years ago today. The Surrealist artist remains well-recognised, thanks to his moustache, but did you know about these unusual antics? (Thank you Alice Vincent!)

    1. Salvador Dalí made accidental millionaires of his secretaries
    Long before the interning trend took off, Dalí refused to pay his secretaries. Instead he gave them commissions, which didn’t pay their rent at the time, but resulted in many of them cashing in seven-figure sums in later life.
    2. Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Dalí share an alter-ego
    Dalí was inspired by obscure scientific theories throughout his entire life and practice. In 1958, he proclaimed himself interested in the work of Nazi physicist Dr Werner Heisenberg in a gallery catalogue. But according to Dalí, the feeling was mutual between himself and Heisenberg, the name adopted by Breaking Bad anti-hero Walter White for his meth-cooking purposes. Dalí wrote: “I, who previously only admired Dalí, will now start to admire that Heisenberg who resembles me”.
    3. Dalí was expelled from art school, but only because he wanted to be
    The budding artist refused to be examined for the art history final of his degree, saying “none of the professors of the school being competent to judge me, I retire”. Dalí’s reason for leaving was not, however, idological, but practical: he wanted to continue being financially supported by his father, but this would stop once he had a degree. Instead, he had reason to go and study in Paris at his expense.
    4. His dislike of Britain resulted in a useless portrait of Laurence Olivier
    By now considered in artistic circles to be more of a commercial painter, in 1955 Dalí was commissioned to paint a portrait of Laurence Olivier for a film poster for Richard III, in which Olivier played the title role, by the film’s director, Sir Alexander Korda. However, the desired poster never emerged. Despite sketching Olivier in the Shepperton Studios, Dalí refused to paint it in England, which he called “the most unpleasant place”, and returned to Spain to complete the portrait. It got held up in Barcelona Airport after being deemed to valuable to transport. Although Korda was naturally angered by this, Olivier got lucky and received it as a gift.
    5. Dalí nearly suffocated explaining his own importance
    During the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, Dalí, then in the prime of his artistic career, gave a lecture wearing an old-fashioned deep-sea diving suit to represent, he later revealed, how he existed in the bottom of the sea of subconciousness. What his adoring fans didn’t realise is that Dalí was suffocating inside the soundproofed glass bowl, thinking his exaggerated gestures an amusing part of his act. As the artist nearly fainted, poet David Gascoyne came to the rescue with a spanner.
    6. He found deep meaning in cauliflowers
    Dalí filled up a white Rolls Royce Phantom II with 500kg of cauliflowers and drove it from Spain to Paris in December 1955. The reasoning was, he later told an audience of 2,000, that “everything ends up in the cauliflower!”. He explained to American journalist Mike Wallace three years later that he was attracted to their “logarithmic curve”.
    7. Even his pets were works of art
    In the Sixties Dalí got a pet ocelot called Babou, which accompanied him on a leash and a studded collar nearly everywhere he went – including, famously, in a restaurant in Manhattan. When a fellow diner became alarmed, he calmly told her that Babou was a normal cat that he had “painted over in an op art design”.
    8. Dalí married his friend’s wife
    Dalí met his beloved wife, Gala, while she was still married to his friend, French poet Paul Eluard in 1929. Eluard diplomatically appeared as one of the witnesses at their wedding. The marriage offended Dalí’s family, who disapproved of Gala being both a mother and 10 years older than Dalí, and Dalí was disinherited by his Father as a result.
    9. He remained devoted to Gala’s demands until her death
    Dalí and Gala were together until her death, despite her frequent extra-marital affairs. In 1969 Dalí bought a castle in Pubol, 50 miles from his home in Port Lligat, for Gala. According to an explosive article run in Vanity Fair in 1998, he was only allowed to visit with a written invitation. Gala continued to entertain her lovers there into her eighties, one of whom was Jeff Fenholt, star of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, who had a recording studio on site.
    10. Dalí didn’t travel light
    Upon arriving in New York harbour for the second time, in 1934, after wearing a life jacket for the entire journey and travelling by train while attached to all of his paintings by string, Dalí waved a two metre-long loaf of bread at paparazzi. To his dismay, they were unfazed by his enormous baked goods.
    11. He wasn’t the ideal game-show guest
    Dalí appeared as a guest on Fifties gameshow What’s My Line, in which contestants had to guess the profession and name by asking yes or no questions. Dalí, a polymath and an immodest one at that, caused havoc during the game by claiming to be at once a writer, TV personality, athlete and cartoon artist. One exasperated contestant nearly gave up, proclaiming, “there’s nothing this man doesn’t do!”

     
  5. At first glance you can’t understand why the child in the photograph is not screaming its head off. Clamped in position by a sinister shrouded figure, the toddler seems solemn certainly, but hardly terrified. Look a little harder, though, and you begin to unravel the visual and emotional dynamics in play. The bundled-up figure is actually the child’s mother. And, far from spooking the toddler, she is holding it gently but firmly on her shrouded lap.

     
  6. Colin Wilson was an author who electrified the critics in the 1950s before turning to books on crime and the occult. The writer, who has died 82, suspected he was a genius; and there were some who agreed with him when in 1956, aged 24, he published The Outsider, a somewhat portentous overview of existentialism and alienation.
    Examining the role of outsiders in the arts, Wilson’s attention roamed across a multitude of figures such as Camus, Nietzsche, Kafka, Sartre, Hermann Hesse and Van Gogh. Few first books have been greeted with such unequivocal enthusiasm. Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly and Philip Toynbee were among those who hailed Wilson as one of the brightest young writers of the moment (although Connolly later claimed that he hadn’t even read the book) and he was feted by the press.
    Wilson became a celebrity almost overnight and the book went on to be translated into 12 languages. It added to the excitement that he had written The Outsider in the Reading Room at the British Museum, while spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath. On finding himself lionised, however, Wilson spent lavishly on wine, whisky and long-playing records; meanwhile, his frankly expressed opinion that he was “a genius” soon earned him the enmity of Fleet Street.
    A few months later he was attacked by his future father-in-law brandishing a horsewhip and shouting: “Aha, Wilson, the game is up!”, and the subsequent press coverage drove him out of London to Cornwall, where he remained for the rest of his life.

     
  7. NELSON MANDELA 1918 - 2013: Freedom fighter, prisoner, president, global icon - the world mourns passing of man who freed his country and became an inspiration to billions. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma announced the long-expected death in a special television broadcast last night.
    Mr Zuma said: ‘Our nation has lost its greatest son.’
    ‘What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”

     
  8. It’s the kind of gadget to have Patsy and Edina purring with approval… Champagne at the press of a button.
    But this vending machine is not a prop from Absolutely Fabulous. It has been installed in the luxury department store Selfridges.
    Well-heeled customers can enjoy chilled 200ml bottles of Moët & Chandon at £18 a pop. The vending machine holds 350 bottles, each of which is coated in mini Swarovski crystals.

     
  9. "Now in the sunny freshness of a Texas morning,” LIFE wrote in its Nov. 29, 1963, issue, alongside the first photo in this gallery, “with roses in her arms and a luminous smile on her lips, Jacqueline Kennedy still had one hour to share the buoyant surge of life with the man at her side".

    On this day 50 years ago, JFK was assassinated.

     
  10. jonnicheatwood:

    this is perfect. #repost from @wetheurban